From SamuraiWiki
Jump to navigationJump to search
  • Japanese/Okinawan: 家譜 (kafu)
  • Other Names: 系図 (J: keizu)

Kafu were family registry records of the Ryukyuan aristocracy written in kanbun, which included lineages and individual personal or career histories.

Kafu likely existed in some form earlier, but the system was first formally put into place beginning in 1670, when Shô Shôken required members of the aristocracy to submit records of their lineages.[1]. In 1689, an office known as the keizuza was formally established within the government of the Kingdom of Ryûkyû to create and maintain these records in a more formal and standardized manner. The first head of the keizuza was Shô Kôtoku, also known as Prince Kochinda Chôshun, fifth son of the late King Shô Shitsu (and thus, younger brother to the current King Shô Tei).

The initial compilations produced in 1689 (or shortly thereafter) contained a total of 687 main families, and 36 additional branch families listed as heads of lineages. Many families shared names; 479 different family names appear in these initial records. These family names were single-character Chinese-style names, such as Sai (蔡), Tei (鄭), and Bai (貝).

Following the establishment of the keizuza, records of each aristocratic lineage were systematically produced, with one copy being kept by the royal government, and one, stamped with the royal seal, kept by the family described in that record. With this system in place, an aristocrat could prove his lineage, and ancestral hometown. These documents recorded not only the lineage, but also accomplishments and commendations, including whether an individual had made formal journeys to China, Kagoshima, or Edo. As only members of the elite maintained these genealogy records, the aristocracy, or members of it, came to be known as chiimuchi (J: keimochi, 系持), or "lineage-holders," while commoners, lacking both in lineage records and even in surnames, were known as mukei (無系, "lacking lineage").

Though originally recorded in a Japanese style, in the 18th century, these came to be recorded in a more strongly Chinese style; this was but one of many changes implemented in the Ryukyuan court as it actively sinified over the course of that century. As aristocrats' Japanese-style surnames were tied to their fiefs and often changed, genealogies came to record lineages according to the Chinese-style family name, recording all those within a given munchû (門中, lit. "within the gates").[2] Family branches were distinguished between the main household (大宗, C: dàzōng) and lesser branches (小宗, C: xiǎo zōng).[3]

Today, these serve as valuable primary sources for historical research.


  • Miyagi Eishô 宮城栄昌, Ryûkyû shisha no Edo nobori 琉球使者の江戸上り, Tokyo: Daiichi Shobô (1982), 7-8.
  • "Kafu." Okinawa Compact Encyclopedia (沖縄コンパクト事典, Okinawa konpakuto jiten). Ryukyu Shimpo. 1 March 2003. Accessed 6 October 2010.
  • Shunzo Sakamaki, "On Early Ryukyuan Names," in Sakamaki (ed.), Ryukyuan Names (Honolulu: East-West Center, 1964), 11-19.
  1. Robert Sakai, “The Ryukyu (Liu-ch’iu) Islands as a Fief of Satsuma,” in John K. Fairbank, The Chinese World Order, Harvard University Press (1968), 128.
  2. Samurai families used similar terminology to refer to those within the same widely extended family or household, e.g. referring to individuals as monka 門下 (lit. "under the gates [of the household]").
  3. Akin to the Japanese honke (本家, "main house") and bunke (分家, "branch house"). Akamine Mamoru, Lina Terrell (trans.), Robert Huey (ed.), The Ryukyu Kingdom: Cornerstone of East Asia, University of Hawaii Press (2017), 90.